Interview: James Bond Producers Barbara Broccoli & Michael Wilson
by Alex Billington
November 9, 2012
For as long as I can remember, I've been a Bond fan. I've boasted numerous times about my VHS/DVD/Blu collection of all 22 (soon 23) films and extensive history with the series. A few weeks ago, I was honored to sit down with the two masterminds behind the 50 year old franchise - producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. Barbara is the daughter of the legendary Albert R. Broccoli, known as "Cubby", who is the father of the original Bond movies starting with Dr. No in 1962. I was excited to talk with them about Skyfall, directed by Sam Mendes with Daniel Craig as 007, and the status of the Bond franchise. Dive in!
Honestly, I could've spent hours talking with these two about Bond, from its roots and history to where it's headed next, but they seemed to want to keep the focus primarily on Skyfall. There was still plenty we talked about in relation to bringing this to life, trusting in and finding the right directors, and how they've reinvented and refreshed this beloved spy character. I was informed that they would prefer not to be recorded on camera, so this interview is a transcript in text of my complete discussion with the two of them.
What is the biggest inspiration for why you decided to reinvent and reboot the character with Daniel Craig and with what it is now?
Barbara Broccoli: Well, I guess the good fortune we had was that we were able to get the rights to [Ian Fleming's book] Casino Royale, which had alluded Cubby [Albert R. Broccoli] and Harry [Saltzman] originally. That was the film they obviously wanted to make. So we were very lucky to get those rights back.
And I suppose the inspiration is Daniel. He is… I mean it's one of those rare situations where it's as if all the planets have aligned and the right actor, and the right role, at the right moment, and the right script all came together with Casino Royale. And he is the inspiration. He is the one who can take it to these places that maybe we wouldn't have realized possible before. So I think it's him.
Is he as much of a driver of the progress of the Bond films at this point as much as you are?
Michael Wilson: I think having him in the role, first of all, attracts other people, like Sam [Mendes], and attracts a good cast because the director and he attract good cast. Then you want to get the writing… it gives you more opportunities with the writing. So all of that comes out of having him in the role. He doesn't necessarily participate in the early script materials. He does when the director is on board and he's working with the director. But I think it's having him there, knowing he is going to be in the film, is what inspires everyone to up their game.
How much are you going to continue to reinvent and reboot Bond from this point forward? We get to a point at the end of Skyfall and I'm wondering if it's going to progress from there with the same elements, or is it going to be something completely new each time?
Michael: Well, I think we'll have to wait. [laughs] Right now you are asking… here we just got over this film. We're trying to sell this film. And the idea of thinking about the next one, it's always tough. If you have… the Bond films have waxed and waned. So if you have one that's sort of down, you think, "Oh my God. Have we ended this series?" But you have one that's really up there and everybody loves, you think, "Oh my God. How are we ever going to do that again?" So that's where we are! [laughs]
Barbara: But that's always the challenge… you know, to make the next one as good as it can be. It's been a challenge that everyone, us, and certainly Cubby and Harry had before us. It's really hard. So all we can do, really, is try and make them as good as we can from the beginning, working on the story through everything else. I suppose the thing is that now we have the family back. I think it will be a reincarnation of the original… But I don't think that it's going… having those characters isn't going to make Bond as comfortable as he was in the past, because the reinvention of those characters are very different. Eve is a real kick-ass kind of field agent.
So I think it won't be just the casual kind of relationships anymore. She's going to give him as good as she gets. And with Q, as you can see, he's a younger, more tenacious in the role, because, you know, nowadays it is the young people who have the ability to use technology and to create technology. He's a creator of technology.
Thank you for bringing Q back, by the way. I'm a huge Desmond Llewelyn fan. I talked to Ben Whishaw (full interview here) and told him, "You have embodied Desmond." He said, "That's not what I was trying, but I sort of felt like it was there anyway." He said, "Even just in the writing and the way that character was brought to life again in this." I loved seeing that.
Barbara: And he's a really superb actor. I mean he's really… we're so fortunate to have him. And again, it was this weird thing where everyone that we wanted we got. We sat down and said, "He's got to be younger. Who could it be?" And Sam was like, "Ben Wishaw." I said, "No kidding. Can we get him?" He was just about available because, you know, he was doing Cloud Atlas, he was doing "The Hour". He's a very, very… He's on the up and up.
I've been following him for a while, and when I saw him cast as Q, I thought, "He's going to be perfect." And it turns out he was. I also loved how all of these people, the "family", every single person shot a gun at one point. We saw M shoot a gun. We saw Q…
Barbara: M had… she had a great time shooting a gun. She was really exciting.
Michael: Action woman.
Barbara: She's wanted to for years to get to do some of the fun stuff. And she did really well.
It shows that MI6 is not just people in an office; everyone gets action at some point, right? I wanted to speak about Sam Mendes (full interview here). Again, great choice here, if not an inspired, incredible choice.
Barbara: Funny, because a few months ago everyone was saying, "Oh! Sam Mendes! Is it going to be a…" What were they all saying?
Michael: A drama…
Barbara: Oh yeah! Everyone was saying, "Oh, well you're not going to have any action."
Michael: It's all going to be in the office talking…
Barbara: I know! Everybody was like, "Sam Mendes?!" Now everybody is going, "Oh! What a great choice!"
Michael: The thing about Sam is that he can't… there are a lot of dramatic scenes in this, but they are all interesting. There's a few of them in there in parallel and then it kinda builds up the tension, like when she's at the hearing and Javier has gotten away.
Barbara: A thriller.
Michael: It's a really thriller type of thing. And the scenes are really gripping even though they are dramatic scenes.
How do you find the right director and how do you trust in them to actually bring to life the next Bond film that you are envisioning?
Michael: Never easy. You think, "Oh, this one is going to be great." And they are or they're not and all that. It's really hard to predict.
Barbara: I think the great thing about Sam is that he wanted to make… He's a huge Bond fan and he wanted to make the greatest Bond movie. He didn't come to it saying, "I want to make the best Sam Mendes film." He came to it saying, "I want to make the best Bond film ever." I think that was his challenge. And he loves a challenge. I think he just threw everything at it. 100%.
How much creative freedom do you allow directors once they get involved? How much is it driven by your choices? How much of the film is all Sam, how much is what you guys want?
Michael: It's impossible to say. The reason I say that is that between a writer, actors, directors, and all the production—visual effects, special effects people, stunts—everybody creates this picture. And we do focus on Sam because in the dramatic scenes it's very much Sam's world. But outside of that there's second unit directors, there's all kinds of people that all contribute to how this is going to happen. You know, the design of the film. [Production designer] Dennis Gassner, the costumes, everything contributes to making this film interesting. So they're all part of it.
Does Sam have final cut or is it still you two in the editing process finishing it up?
Michael: We have a relationship with him about—we all agree on the film. So that's what happened. But it's very much his picture. You know, Stuart Baird, his editor, and Kate, his daughter, are very much involved in that. Visual effects people, they are very much involved in how it's going to look and what happens. So we are…
Barbara: Creatively we were all on the same page, which was fortunate. So we didn't have to go to the… "who has final cut."
Michael: But we were always that way. It's always been a very congenial thing, because I think we try to have a really good relationship with the director and not have the picture get to a stage where we're not happy with it. But it's always been… we've always sort of… because we're so involved in the script.
Barbara: Yeah, we're there all the time. It's not like the situation where producers sort of aren't around, and so they see some movie for the first time and they go, "Oh, what have you done to my movie?" It's not anything like that. We're there from the beginning to end. And there are certain parameters with a James Bond film. There are certain expectations. And those are dictated, obviously, by the Fleming books and the novels, the characters, characterizations, the film history, and also the fans.
So you set those parameters. Sam is a fan, as we are fans of the movies, you say, "We've got to make a movie that the fans are going to like." So you are not going to do something, I think, totally out of the realm of reason, because if it's not going to satisfy the fans, why would you do that?
The thought that comes to mind is in Hollywood there's too much of "made by committee" films, where in the end it's sort of muddled because there's 100 different people trying to put in their opinion. And I don't think that's the case here, especially with Skyfall because I would say it turns out to be one of the best Bond films. And yet, Sam has his mark on it. And, as you said, all of these people have their mark on it, yet we still see this amazing result…
Michael: This is a film made my filmmakers. You are talking about films that have a lot of input from studio executives. We don't get… we get their comments and that's fine. We like to hear them because sometimes they have something very important to say and revealing, so we learn something from that. But this film was made by the filmmakers and not by people outside of the film.
Barbara: We're all making the same movie. And I think that's what happens. When you are immersed in it you all kinda… it's very important that you have a dialogue about the kind of movie you are making. And that is in every decision that is being made. When people are disjointed from that experience, then you have all this drama.
Will we see, or is there a possibility, of a Chris Nolan Bond film in the future?
Barbara: Well, we love Chris Nolan. He makes fantastic films. But at the moment we've got Sam Mendes… So I don't think we want to switch bait at the moment! [laughs]
Michael: You can imagine, though, if we said, "Oh yeah, we're going to have him," what that would do to our credibility with Sam at this point. It's like if you are married and somebody says, "Would you like to be married to…" an actress. "Oh yeah, she'd be great." What would your wife say about that? [laughs]
What is it that, in your sense, defines this era of Bond? Every previous Bond era has pieces and elements that make it what it is. What is it about the Daniel Craig era that you think defines it?
Barbara: Daniel Craig. Basically, it is him.
Michael: Simply that. But it's always been… it always has been Pierce Brosnan. It's always been Roger Moore. It's always been Timothy Dalton. It's always been Sean Connery, George Lazenby. It's always been their Bonds. Because they are leading men and they kind of have their own way of expressing the Bond character. And it works for them.
How do you, in relation to Skyfall, continue to evolve and refresh and keep Bond interesting and exciting in this day and age with 23, coming on 24, films? How is that possible?
Michael: Well if you can answer that question you can come work for us. [laughs]
Barbara: I think it's that we're still interested. We're excited about it. We're interested. We like the challenge. The bar was set very high 50 years ago. We just keep trying to keep up. And we're invigorated by Daniel Craig coming on board and having his view. And then you get someone like Sam Mendes, and he was working with Roger Deakins, and you've got Albert Finney… It's like, how great is it? I mean they give you the inspiration, the adrenaline. And it's that wonderful collaboration of all these extraordinary people that keeps you moving forward.
I can't wait to see the next James Bond movie already. Thank you to Columbia/Sony Pictures for the opportunity, and to Barbara and Michael for taking the time to speak with this geeky James Bond fan. You can also find my interviews with Sam Mendes here and Ben Whishaw here. Skyfall is now playing in theaters everywhere around the world! See it when you can.